The secret of a good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself.
Ratatouille is usually served as a side dish, but may also be served as a meal on its own (accompanied by pasta, rice or bread) or even topped with a fried egg. Tomatoes are a key ingredient, with garlic, onions, courgette, aubergine, bell peppers, basil, bay leaf and thyme, or a mix of green herbs like herbes de Provence. Ratatouille can be eaten for dinner, but is also used in breakfast and lunch settings. There is much debate on how to make a traditional ratatouille. One method is simply to sauté all of the vegetables together. Some cooks, including Julia Child, insist on a layering approach, where the eggplant and the zucchini are sautéed separately, while the tomatoes, onion, garlic and bell peppers are made into a sauce. The ratatouille is then layered in a casserole – eggplant, zucchini, tomato/pepper mixture – then baked in an oven. A third method, favored by Joël Robuchon, is similar to the previous; however, the ingredients are not baked in an oven but rather recombined in a large pot and simmered. When ratatouille is used as a filling for savory crêpes or to fill an omelette, the pieces are sometimes cut very small. Also, unnecessary moisture is reduced by straining the liquid with a colander into a bowl, reducing it in a hot pan, then adding one or two tablespoons of reduced liquid back into the vegetables.
Similar dishes exist in other cuisines: pisto (Castilian-Manchego, Spain), caponata (Sicily, Italy), briám and tourloú (Greek), şakşuka and türlü (Turkish), lecsó (Hungarian).
American chef Thomas Keller popularized a contemporary variation, confit byaldi, for the 2007 animated film Ratatouille.
The ingredients are the same no matter which version you wish to make.
1 medium aubergine (eggplant)
3 medium courgettes (zucchini or squash)
700 g / 26 oz tomatoes, canned or fresh (if fresh, peeled and deseeded)
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper. diced
1 large onion, diced roughly
2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preparation: Oven baked method
Preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F
Peel and chop all the vegetables – I only peel the aubergine, not the courgettes
Mix all the vegetables with the herbs and oil
Place all in a baking dish
Cover and bake for one hour
Uncover, stir, season to taste and continue baking until all the vegetables are soft
If too thick add some beef or chicken or vegetable stock
Can be puréed or left chunky
Preparation: Classic method
Dice all the vegetables into small cubes
Make sure to keep each vegetable in a separate bowl
Heat the olive oil in a large pan
Sauté each vegetable (they must be all al dente, slightly crunchy) one at a time in the following order: onions, peppers, aubergines, courgettes – keep in separate bowls after cooking each
Cook the tomatoes with the crushed garlic, bay leaf, thyme, dried basil and oregano for about 15 minutes
Finally, mix all the ingredients together in the pan, and season with salt and pepper
Cover with a lid and set aside till serving time
Give the dish a Moroccan twist by frying the onions with 2 tsp harissa paste and stirring in 400g can chickpeas, drained. For a more intense Mediterranean flavour, add 1 tbsp capers, a handful of pitted black olives and a few chopped anchovies. Make it into a gratin by placing in a gratin dish, sprinkling with crumbs from 2 slices bread and a handful grated parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil and grill until golden. Or add a deseeded and finely chopped chilli with the garlic for an extra kick.